Thursday 29 September 2016

Trains, buses and automobiles - meet a footballer who clocks up massive mileage for her county

Published 02/04/2016 | 15:32

Nicole McLaughlin
Nicole McLaughlin

GETTING a car this year has considerably shortened Nicole McLaughlin's trip to county training but it's still pretty lengthy and could yet cause other complications.

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The 21-year-old, like many young drivers, has had a telematic 'black box' fitted to minimise insurance costs by monitoring her driving.

The Donegal corner-back signed up for a particular mileage limit but, given the distance she travels for county football training, she is already worried about exceeding it.

McLaughlin is a student in LIT's campus in Thurles, which is almost 250 miles from home.

It means she's got a five-hour drive (one-way) to county training yet that is still shorter and much easier than the mind-boggling public transport trek she endured for the past two years.

"It used to take me seven hours. First I got the train from Thurles to Dublin, followed by the Luas down to Busaras and then a bus home," she explained.

Nicole McLaughlin, Donegal, in action against Aoife Keane
Nicole McLaughlin, Donegal, in action against Aoife Keane

"I'd leave around noon and get home at 8:30pm and there would usually be a delay somewhere or other.

"I wasn't too popular with the other girls because training was not until nine on Friday nights to let me get back in time.

"Having a car is so much easier and luckily I have just three days college a-week at the moment so I can go up the day before. I also had my placement in Donegal for the whole of January which was a big help.

"I really don't think too too much about it," McLaughlin insists of her lengthy training treks.

"I suppose it is a fair distance alright but sure everyone (playing inter-county) has college and work that they're all trying to juggle."

LIT Tipperary looks an unlikely college choice for an Ulster footballer but McLaughlin chose it because it offers a four-year education degree with business, which is what she wants to teach.

Lauren McConville, Armagh, in action against Nicole McLaughlin, Donegal
Lauren McConville, Armagh, in action against Nicole McLaughlin, Donegal

Her second subject is also unusual: religion. "I picked it because I thought it might be easy but I've discovered it's wild hard!" she admitted.

The 'home of hurling' was pretty much a foreign country to McLaughlin when she initially arrived.

"The only thing I really knew about Thurles was that it was where the GAA first started but now I don't think I'd like to have gone to college in a big city. I absolutely love living there," she said.

Her student housemates include two other inter-county footballers - Kerry's Eilis O'Connor and Monaghan's Barbara Ward - who also log up considerable training mileage themselves.

McLaughlin is part of a impressive football clan who are Donegal's female equivalent of the McHughs or McGees.

Her sister Geraldine (a year older) is the county's star forward, a goal-machine who strikes terror in defences wherever she roams.

And they were joined by sister Sharon on their local club side when Termon won the All-Ireland senior club championship two years ago.

"There's 11 children in the family and the older girls and boys didn't really play at all but myself, Geraldine and Sharon are all playing and Fiona and Sinead used to play a fair bit too," she outlined.

Geraldine and herself were key players when Donegal's women won a historic first Ulster senior title last year.

It came off the back of a promotion playoff defeat by arch-rivals Armagh but the Tir Chonails are unbeaten to date this season, scoring an average of 3-16 per game.

They've already secured themselves a Division 2 semi-final slot before travelling to face Kildare this weekend in the penultimate round of the Lidl ladies' NFL.

McLaughlin's training trips to the hills of Donegal certainly demand exceptional dedication and she was one of 23 players recently awarded third-level scholarships by the Women's Gaelic Players' Association (WGPA).

At that presentation the recipients were exhorted to 'Go Higher' in everything they do in life, on and off the pitch.

Whatever about going higher, few GAA players are going further than McLaughlin who gives new meaning to the phrase 'going that extra mile' for your county.

*** Find out more about female inter-county players at www.wgpa.ie and through their #behindtheplayer campaign.

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